There can come a time in any nurse’s life when a leave of absence from the profession is necessary. In my experience as a career coach for nurses, common reasons given for temporarily leaving nursing are raising children, tending to personal health concerns, and caring for ill or disabled family members.
Returning to the nursing workforce can be a challenge in the best of circumstances. Some of my clients have had absences of up to 18 years, and it isn’t hard to imagine what struggles such an individual might face.
Many nurses who need to bow out for a while do not seem to grasp what they might be up against years later. Here are some tips for prior to, and following, such an absence.
Before Your Leave
If you’re leaving your workplace and not planning to continue working as a nurse for an undetermined period, consider if you could at least work per diem from time to time in order to keep your foot in the door and your skills intact. Gaps in a resume are easier to fill if you’ve had a per diem position and an employer to list on an application no matter how infrequent your shifts have been.
Identify colleagues with whom you plan to keep in touch during your leave, and make sure you’re connected on LinkedIn and social media.
Prior to your last day, secure letters of recommendation from your supervisors and colleagues. You can ask to have these posted to your LinkedIn profile, as well as printed on letterhead and signed.
During Your Leave
Attend several nursing conferences or seminars every year, as well as webinars and online CEU courses. Subscribe to at least two nursing journals via an online or print subscription.
Stay connected with the local, state, regional, and/or national nursing associations that you’re a member of, and make every attempt to attend some meetings or conference calls. If you’re not a member, join before you begin your leave, and commit to participating. If you can join a committee or board, do so — these connections will be invaluable later on.
Consider joining an online or in-person nurse meetup group that discusses research, evidence-based practice, or other timely issues.
If possible, do some form of volunteer work in the healthcare or human services sectors. Obtain letters of reference and LinkedIn recommendations from supervisors and colleagues.
Be in touch on a regular basis with former colleagues and managers.
Re-Launching Your Career
There’s no magic bullet or secret sauce to re-launching your nursing career after a long absence. If you’ve maintained connections and done some networking during your leave, stayed as active as possible, taken part in volunteer opportunities, and maintained your license and educational requirements, these practices will help fill in the gaps and explain how you’ve utilized your time. If you were able to work per diem shifts from time to time, all the better.
If your time away involved the direct care of a disabled family member, carefully document how your nursing skills were utilized in this regard so that you can easily and positively explain the situation in a job interview. If you collaborated or communicated with healthcare professionals in your role, have this documented, preferably in letters of recommendation.
If your absence from the profession was more than a year or two, taking a nursing refresher course is prudent.
When searching for work, don’t only rely on job postings. Tap your network, request informational interviews, and meet face to face with potential employers and allies. When someone looks you in the eye and senses your earnestness and humanity, they may be more willing to help you than if they encountered you through a faceless resume on their desk. Such personal connections may be your best avenue to regaining your footing as a nurse if you can find a champion willing to help you find a position that suits you.
Don’t give up, and maintain your belief in your own skills, merit, and expertise. Make a strong case for the person you are, and even for the value of the time you spent away from nursing. Communicate your willingness to learn, to be a team player, and to work your way up from a humble position.
It’s not always easy, but many nurses have returned to nursing with a new lease on life and a great appreciation for their chosen profession.